Appeals Court Upholds Much of S.D. 'Informed Consent' Law

September 6, 2011 — The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday upheld parts of a South Dakota law requiring physicians to inform women seeking abortion care that they have an "existing relationship" with the fetus protected by law and that they cannot be forced to have the procedure, the AP/Washington Post reports. The appeals court struck down a provision that would require physicians to tell women that abortion increases the risk of suicide.

The court overturned an earlier ruling by U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier that struck down the requirement that a physician tell a woman that she "has an existing relationship with the unborn human being and that the relationship enjoys protection under the United States Constitution and under the laws of South Dakota" (AP/Washington Post, 9/2). In a 17-page ruling, the appeals court wrote that the statement "conveys legal information that is truthful, not misleading, and relevant to the abortion decision" and ensures women are not pressured into an unwanted procedure.

The court upheld the lower court's ruling that the state may require physicians to tell women that abortion will "terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being" (Stern/Wisniewski, Reuters, 9/2). The appeals court also upheld another portion of the lower court decision, ruling that the law's requirement that women be told of an increased risk of suicide violates a physician's first amendment rights. It would require them to make "untruthful and misleading" statements, the court stated (Baker, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 9/2).

Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, said, "As the major medical organizations have found, and as the court agreed today, the scientific and medical evidence shows that women who choose abortion are not at increased risk for mental health problems." She added, "This law is just one of many reprehensible barriers that South Dakota lawmakers have attempted to place between women and their access to safe, legal reproductive health care" (Fox, National Journal, 9/2).

Abortion-rights opponent Leslee Unruh, founder of the Alpha Center pregnancy counseling center in Sioux Falls, said, "We are so happy about this ruling. It just shows the tide has turned in this country and we need to protect unborn children, as well as the woman in making the decision" (AP/Washington Post, 9/2).